American poet Edgar Albert Guest was born in 1881 but went on to become wildly known as the People’s Poet, a reflection of the optimistic nature of his life’s work and his popularity. He was born in Birmingham, England, but came to the US at the age of 10 and soon after became a naturalized citizen.
A newspaper man by profession, Guest was one of the most prolific poets the world has ever known, writing some 11,000 verses in his 77 years for which he was made Poet Laureate for Michigan. He was not always popular with his poetry writing peers who often thought he was too light of heart to be considered seriously. But his work endures to this day and he has many fans around the world.
The adult Edgar Guest started life as a reporter on the Detroit Free Press, working on the police desk and then moving up to be an editor. In 1904 he put his hand to writing poetry and became a popular staple of the newspaper under the regular headline Chaff. Guest’s fame wasn’t confined just to the Detroit Free Press – as his poetry grew more popular it was syndicated across America and appeared in hundreds of other tabloids.
He published his first collection in 1916 called A Heap O’ Livin’. Others followed over the years, including Just Folks and Living the Years.
Edgar Guest spent most of his life at the Detroit Free Press as a reporter. He started there when he was barely 15, working as a copy boy and staying there for the next 60 years. In 1906 Guest married Nellie Crossman and they had three children together.
Between 1931 and 42, he moved for a while from newspapers to radio, hosting the aptly titled A Guest in Your Home. He offered a sentimental view of life in his poetry, spread normally over 14 lines and it is easy to see how he became a favorite with the American public.
Guest was not one to take himself too seriously either, quoting that he was a newspaper man who occasionally wrote verses rather than a serious threat to the likes of Tennyson and Keats.
In essence Guest was the model of a newspaper man whose poetry reflected a need to connect but not overwhelm his audience with the verse he wrote. It was intended to be mostly humorous but underlying many of his works is a love of the common man and a desire to speak of him in a plain and uncomplicated way.
Many of his works became bestsellers particularly because they spoke to the everyday man and woman, a notable example being his first collection A Heap of Livin’ published in 1916, which resonates to this day.
He died in 1959 and was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Detroit.